Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Life on the Amazon - Part II: The Experience
The meeting of the waters on the Amazon, as seen from the plane
Preface: I wrote this blog (as well as "The Pantanal" article) on a napkin in a brand new wine bar at the Tropical Hotel in Manaus, where I was entertained by a wide screen tv playing a DVD of Pink Floyd's "The Wall" concert live in Berlin. I must say it was a very surreal experience, made all the more wondrous by an endless stream of complimentary house drinks - the first because the wine bar was new so they offered a "welcome drink" for checking it out. The second came compliments of the front desk because I was ending a 2-week tour with my guests at the Tropical and had already seen them off at the airport - they knew I was finally off the 24/7 clock. And the third because I had simply made myself so comfortably engrossed in my napkin writing that the bartender thanked me for being the only one there most of the night. By that third drink, I was feeling like Joni Mitchell "...in the blue tv screen light....I drew a map of...", so my table, and napkin, looked like this:
Point being, the Tropical Hotel is simply the place to stay in Manaus. The heavy metal rock band Metallica just checked out, and now Prince Charles and Camilla were there; the staff were already buzzing about news of hosting Obama in the next month (has that happened yet?). Meanwhile, I was finally adjusting to working without my overheated mac, and here at last, I present the final publication of the Amazon napkin blogs. As hand-written.
So, if I lacked for rain in the Pantanal, the Amazon surely made up for it. Manaus is probably the rainiest city I have ever been (and I lived in Seattle for 3 years). Well, it is in the middle of the Amazon, which is a rainforest, afterall. And if nothing else, you can be sure of rain. Lots of rain.
I boarded the luxurious Iberostar Grand Amazon in the company of 30 fellow passengers, on a boat that accommodates 150! How lucky was that? It felt like a very exclusive cruise, like we were the personal guests of the Brazilian captain - who, as a matter of fact, had his family on board too! And the crew were no less attentive to the rest of us, they were positively welcoming. By the end of 3 days I felt I'd been adopted into a Brazilian family, with lots of brothers, cousins, and a few crazy aunties.
Our first outing by small boat expedition began with blue skies and warm temperatures. Forget about jackets and raingear, "it's gonna be gorgeous" was the attitude everyone had as we left the Iberostar.
The first 40 minutes were, then suddenly, out of nowhere, a massive tropical downpour. Rain so thick and dense it made for white out conditions! And there we were on an open-air excursion boat, no roof, no cover, nothing to protect us from the elements. It was a first for me to experience getting completely drenched - socks, knickers and all!
Fortunately, I always carry a drysack for my camera and lens - a lesson I learned in the 90's when I forded a river in Guatemala, and ended up treading across neck-deep with one arm while the other held my camera over my head. I've only used the drysack once since, in Costa Rica, but I always carry it, several in fact, when I am cruising. It's the most valuable accessory in my photography travel bag by far.
But you know what? Rain in the rainforest is good. It just feels so good, so pure, so real. Better than a hot shower after a cold surf...and that's heavenly. So as long as I have my drysack with me, let it rain all it wants. Bring it on! There were certainly enough breaks in the clouds to pull the camera out and spot a few animals - here are some of the more exciting sightings:
Boto - Pink Amazon River Dolphin
...and another Three-toed Sloth
This is not a showcase of amazing wildlife stock photography - consider this a very realistic Amazon wildlife portfolio for 3 days from a boat. If you go to experience a cruise on the Amazon, then you'll love it - you'll return home with lots of pictures of trees which you'll share with friends explaining "there's a bird or monkey there somewhere", and the joy is in the story told. But if your intention is to get decent wildlife pictures, then head to the Pantanal, where you'll find the same animals in more open areas and easier to see close up without neck strain. My advice? If you're in Brazil, or planning to go, do BOTH.
The great thing about cruising the Iberostar Grand Amazon is that you always have a plenty of food to come back to. And it's easier to photograph, too.
And now, a tribute to the Iberostar staff, particularly the bartender, and those fun-lovin Brazilian aunties of mine!